Educating Law School Recommenders

LSAT Blog Educating Law School Recommenders
The below excerpt about educating your law school recommenders is from A Guide to Law School Recommendations.

Educating the Educators  

You’re asking for a favor, probably from a busy person who will have to make a concerted effort to find the time to do what you’re asking. That means, of course, that you must approach that person with respect and deference. At the same time, if that person is writing a law school recommendation for you then you need that letter to be as appropriate and compelling as possible.  And, unfortunately, the fact that someone is a well respected professor with multiple publications to his credit and is often asked to write law school recommendations doesn’t necessarily mean that he knows what law schools are looking for.  Worse, there’s a very good chance that he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know.

In this sense, it’s often easier to educate recommenders like employers, who know that they’re on unfamiliar ground, than college professors who have written dozens of letters over the years and have every reason to believe they’re old pros.  

Ideally, you’ll be able to sit down and talk with each recommender about your goals, what the school is looking for from the recommender, the reasons you’ve asked him or her to write the letter and your other recommenders.  That won’t always be possible, though:  you may be geographically remote or the recommender may not want to take time to meet with you personally; some applicants simply aren’t comfortable having that meeting with some recommenders.

Whether or not you get to have that in‐person chat, you’ll want to create a packet for each recommender.    

Recommender Packets
One key purpose of the recommender packet is to educate your recommenders about what law schools are looking for.  But the packet also serves a number of other important purposes:  it makes the process easier for your recommender by putting all key information in one place; it allows you to remind or tell your recommender about yourself and your history and goals; it lets your recommender know that you’re serious about the process and have done everything possible to improve your application package and reduce the burden on the recommender.

That packet should include:  

-A note of thanks for agreeing to write the recommendation;

-In that note, take the opportunity to gently remind the recommender of anything you think it particularly relevant.  For example, “I thought you would be an excellent person to write this recommendation for me because you said that my paper on the History of the Baltic Sea last year was one of the most thorough you’d ever seen from an undergraduate, and the fact that I’ve taken three of your classes in different semesters has given you the opportunity to observe my work over time.”

-Also include a concise list of other materials in the packet in this note.  

-Include your best contact information in a clear manner and invite questions.  

-Practical instructions and the required form for completing and submitting the letter of recommendation;  

-Any information specific to the recommender—for example, if the letter will be targeted to a particular school, remind the recommender of that fact and the reason you’re requesting a targeted letter;  

-Your target date for having your law school applications complete.  In choosing this date, remember that busy people meet deadlines imperfectly and that during busy times, it can take a couple of weeks for your LSAC file to be updated after letters are received. If you plan to send out your law school applications on November 15, consider giving your recommenders a target date of November 1, or even October 20 (then get your packet to your recommenders 3‐4 weeks  in advance of that date);   

-A stamped, addressed envelope—don’t make your recommenders go  to any extra trouble or even petty expense to recommend you;  

-A draft of your personal statement;  

-A list of other recommenders and a brief summary of their  backgrounds/experience with you and, if you know, the general  expected focus of their letters;  

-Your resume;  

-Copies of key papers or projects from the recommender’s class or other coursework that might help refresh the recommenders memory (with teacher comments if possible);

-Any other information that will minimize the burden on your recommender or help your recommender understand you, your application package and how to create the best letter for you. 

If you have the opportunity to meet with the recommender in person to request the recommendation, take the packet with you and give it to your recommender as soon as she’s agreed to write a recommendation for you. 

If you request letters of recommendation over the phone, let the recommender know that you’ll be sending the packet along and that it will include the necessary form for submitting the letter of recommendation and a stamped, addressed envelope along with some other information that she might find helpful.  

Make sure to confirm the appropriate mailing address during that call.  If you request the recommendation via email or other electronic communication, let the prospective recommender know that if he is willing to write the recommendation, you’ll send along the form and some additional information by mail and ask whether the address you have is the correct one.  

Don’t wait to ask for that information in a follow‐up email, as follow-ups often don’t get answered or don’t get answered in a timely manner.  Obviously, you’ll have to leave the actual writing and submission of the letter to the recommender, but other than that one piece, try to end every communication with the ball in your court so that you can keep the  process moving along.   

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